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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Invited to Enter His Passion

In His hour of temptation, Jesus asked the disciples to keep watch with Him. Why? For their sake. In His hour of temptation, He didn't want them to enter temptation. This takes my breath away. I don't know what kind of temptation the disciples could have entered that wouldn't have paled in comparison to the temptation He faced as He spoke to His Father, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me.." (Mark 14:36). What I do know is that I stand amazed that He didn't seem consider His trial in the Garden of Gethsemane to be more worthy of the disciples' prayers than the trials they would have while waiting for Him.

"How is that so, Lord?" He could have asked His disciples to watch and pray for Him, but He didn't.

"I said to them, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.' Then I asked them to watch." He responds to my question from His word, but it doesn't sound like an answer to me.

"I don't understand, Lord." I know His thoughts follow an order and have a point, but I'm not getting it. "What does asking them to watch You  in Your sorrow have to do with telling them to pray, lest they enter into temptation?"

"I said to them, 'The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.'" He responds, again from His word, and again, I don't understand.

He's quiet. I read the passage again and I begin to wonder what the disciples' prayers would have been like if they had followed His instruction. Intense.

They would have seen Him agonize.

They would have heard His voice speak in a tone they'd never heard before.

They would have witnessed great drops of sweat, soaking as blood through His garment.

Perhaps they would have seen, too, angels ministering to Him.

Berries on Thorny Branch

I wonder if Peter would have denied Jesus if he had done as Jesus asked and prayed that he himself wouldn't enter into temptation while watching Jesus agonize in His hour of temptation.

I wonder if the reason why Jesus asked His disciples to sit with Him and watch and, at the same time, to pray that they themselves wouldn't enter into temptation was because there is no greater way to enter into the passion of Christ than to be intimately a part of it. Short of going through what only Jesus could go through, the next closest thing may have been to do what He asked-to sit with Him and watch Him pray for Himself while praying not for Him, but for themselves.

"The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," He answers my wondering with what sounds, to me, like grace laced with the sad reality of our fallen state. It was His response to His disciples when they fell asleep, and it was spoken from the lips of One whose flesh screamed to part company with the cup in order to save His mortal life.

Maybe there was an additional reason why Jesus He asked His disciples to watch and pray for themselves. Maybe when He asked them to pray for themselves, those prayers strengthened Him further to do what He came to do. Maybe whatever quick little prayer His disciples prayed for themselves, before drifting into sleep because of sorrow, were also prayers which girded up Jesus to complete what He came to us to do, knowing that the flesh is weak.

Surely the Father agonized as He listened to His Son groan prayers, alone. His Son was in the flesh, praying what the flesh prays, "Take this cup away from Me." His Son was in the Spirit praying what the Spirit prays, "Not my will, but Thine be done."

And so He agonized, every pore wide awake. He prepared for victory.

He found His disciples sleeping from sorrow. The contrast is stark and painful.

"I want to serve you, wide awake." I say it, and I mean it. "I want to pray for myself." He knows what I'm saying. He knows that I long to enter into His victory, and that I recognize the temptations which come to those who take up their cross and follow Him. I need to sit with Him and watch and pray because I have some flesh to die to and a cross to bear.

"Then rise," He responds to me as He spoke to His disciples.

Thing is, I'm all disciple. My eyes get heavy. I fight fatigue. I get drowsy and am in a fog more often than I'd like. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak and I wish it wasn't.

The Scripture is open before me. I think the pages are worn because my eyes have raked over them so many times. I place my index finger on the word temptation in the passage. Then on the words sorrow and sleep. The words are printed in ink fading with time on worn thin paper and I declare, "Though time may erase ink, the words You speak to me will never be erased, Lord."

Even more, "May my service-my service to You- not be rubbed out, though I may rub my heavy eyelids till my sight blurs."

Many things blur my sight. Sorrow can make me drowsy. Distractions blur. Confusion is exhausting. And sometimes I'm bleary-eyed in my soul because I'm all poured out and need refreshment.

Water Jug

"Rise," says the risen One. " Get out of the fog."

He's referring to an old memory from college days. The winding country Vermont road stretched out as if heavy asleep beneath the fog draped night, and the headlights were lidded blind by it. The road rose, and we'd be out of the thick for a moment. Then the road dipped into valleys where the fog wrapped and tucked in tight, and we'd be swallowed in soupy mire.


I'm poured out. I've poured thousands of words into a book. I've tipped my heart like a pitcher and I didn't know how full it was. I tipped it and I didn't expect a waterfall. I didn't expect much more that a dribble across a few pages. One-hundred and sixty-ish pages later, I'm poured out, spiritually dehydrated, and I don't know why He's telling me to rise when I'm  wrung.

"How?" I plead the question.

"Rest," His answer seems at odds with His command to rise.

"Uh, which is it, Lord? Rise or rest?"

I hear His Spirit whisper answer just beneath the surface of my question, as I ask it. "Sit with Me, watch Me, and pray for yourself, lest you enter into temptation."

"Ah," I feel the answer settle over me not as a blanket of fog I'm too drained to climb out from underneath, but as a veil torn open by grace for easy entrance into the mercy of His passion and the glory of His resurrection.

"Sit with Me, and watch Me." It seems an odd way to enter into the passion of Christ. How can I, sitting and watching, enter into what might be the most physically and spiritually intense event in all of history? Maybe the answer to that is in the next command, "Pray."

There's a tension here. I feel it. It's the tension between rest and rise; between sit and watch, and pray. It's the tension between falling asleep and staying awake; between the weakness of the flesh and the willingness of the spirit. The tension is what I feel when I must rely on God's grace to do in me what my spirit is willing to do, but my flesh is too weak to do.

Well, it's possible that Jesus was disappointed that His disciples rested unto sleep and didn't enter into His passion, but into temptation. It's possible that when they entered the temptation which blanketed them and tucked them tightly into the valley places of heavy lids and sleepy mire, that His own strength against His temptation was affected. Who would have thought that when He asked His disciples to pray for themselves, that He would benefit from those prayers? I don't think the disciples realized that and, until now, I haven't either.

"Did angels come and minister to You in the hour of Your temptation because Your disciples didn't pray?" I wonder. It seems to me that He might have preferred His disciples to pray for themselves as He asked. He didn't ask for angels, but for His disciples.

"If they had prayed for themselves," He begins, "they would have prayed My prayer."

He had taught it to them.

Our Father, which art in heaven, 
hollowed be Thy name. 
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done 
on earth as it is in heaven.

And Jesus prayed, "Abba, Father, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will."

Give us this day our daily bread. 
Lead us not into temptation, 
but deliver us from evil.

And Jesus told His disciples, "Pray for yourselves, that you may not enter into temptation."

For Thine is the kingdom, the power, 
and the glory forever and ever. 

And Jesus woke His disciples a last time and said, "The hour has come. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand."

They wiped the sleep from their eyes, then acted rashly against the multitude carrying swords and clubs who came against Jesus, because they were not prepared. Would a disciple have drawn his sword and drawn blood if he had stayed awake, watched Jesus, and prayed for himself? Probably not.

Feeding a Lamb

"You are my Lord." I worship Him with an awareness of the tension between sitting with Him restfully, and rising in my spirit to pray and enter into His passion. 

"You are my Lord of Your passion." I confirm His agony. "And You have invited me to enter into Your passion."

"You are my conquering Lord." I want to enter His passion in the prayerful way He asked of His disciples. I long to be prepared, that I wouldn't enter into His heaven as if through fire.

"Your love is the fire to put out all fire." Fire-fighters know this strategy. They know to put out a wild fire by building controlled fires. 

He tracks my thoughts and responds, "Love Me, love others, and exit this world with nothing more that a puff of smoke rising from everything, but love, extinguished."

"You are the fire-fighter of all fire-fighters! You burned with passion in the Garden, with pain on the cross, and with love so wild that it extinguished hell fire!" 

I'm rising out of the fog. I've been sitting with Him and now I'm rising.  

I've prayed for myself this morning and in so doing, have ministered to the risen Lord. 

I don't know how that works, really. 

It just does because He wants it to.

Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is is heaven.

Enter His passion. Pray His prayer. He is risen.

He offers the grace for it to be so.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Day of Rest Supports the Rest of Life

I haven't fallen through the slats yet, though every year they turn more grey, more weathered, and weaker. Spring rains soak the slats and they soften. Summer sun dries them till they shrink and the corners of the slats look like kindling singed white in a fire pit.

Stones step across the weedy spring lawn from the patio to the bench. After a winter in socks and boots, the souls of my feet are tender on the stepping stones. Gingerly, I progress to the bench. I sweep the stepping stones with my feet, one step at a time, to clear away twigs and pecan shells left from fall when the squirrels diligently foraged the nuts. The backyard is covered in hulls, as if the squirrels had nut splitting and hull spitting contests from the highest branches last fall.

This bench, it leans against the base of the tree as if it would fall over without the support, but too stubborn to admit it. I saw it at a yard sale a decade ago, and the slats sagged even then. I have a soft spot for the poor and needy, and this bench was that.

I gave a few bucks to the woman in the bright sari. We carried this old bench to the van like two caretakers at a nursing home might ease an ornery gentleman into his bed when he insists he'd rather stay in the courtyard all night, but secretly enjoys the attention. To me, this bench is like that; bad-tempered in a crusty-till-cracked-open way.

I drove home with the bench in the back. It's retired beneath the ancient pecan tree. I know the two of them lean on one another too stubborn to admit they need each other, and too united against the crazy squirrels who are what they eat: hard-headed, half-cracked nuts.

Lord willing, I'll spend three more seasons on this bench. It's where I like to spend warm mornings. The fourth season, winter, is too cold for the likes of me, but isn't winter also a season of rest? It is in my backyard.

In the winter months, the lawn rests beneath decaying leaves, and sometimes a thin blanket of snow. The trees rest till their sap slumbers thick. The vegetables in the garden rest permanently, and I pull them up.

Winter, in the flow of seasons, is as a Sabbath day in the flow of days.

A day of rest supports the rest of life.


The wooden bench slats grumble a cantankerous welcome.

I lean the back of my head against the rough bark, and the sun leans against my face.

Some crazy woodpecker pommels the metal rain gutter. I recognize that hollow, metallic sound. Sometimes I peck like that. Sometimes I beat my head against the likes of an empty metal rain gutter when my spirit is hungry and thirsty, and I gain nothing but greater hunger and thirst for the exertion.

"Moses was promised water from a rock, not after beating his head against it as this woodpecker, but after a single strike with his rod." The Lord speaks to me over the woodpecker with a jack-hammer for a beak.

"Jesus!" I recognize the voice of His Spirit. "You are the rock!"

Surely, I can relate to this crazy woodpecker beating its head against an empty metal rain gutter, as if it thinks it it's not a wood pecker but a metal pecker. Sometimes I confuse my name-my purpose- like that and I end up with a colossal headache. That's just what happens when I beat my head against a wall-when I drill my will.

I find moments of clarity on this aged bench. Here I rest on ancient slats, and here I listen to the Ancient of Days, "Come to Me, and rest."

"You mean, just come to You and sit on Your lap as I sit on this bench?" I know this is what He means. He wants me to rest where I can hear His heart against my ear, not the hard echo of my drilling will.

"Come to Me, and I will give you rest," He says it again.

I lean my head against the song that His heart drums.

Only the woodpecker rattles harsh.

The other birds sing. The other birds live what their names mean. They are Song Birds, and they sing.

Squirrels cracked hard shells last fall, and the yard is littered like confetti after mardi gras, but at least they ate the nuts.

May I break bread on this bench and maybe even toss  bits of hard outer crust into the yard in jubilee, keeping joyous honor of communing with the Bread? I may. I will.

It looks messy, breaking bread. Crumbs fall as bits of confession. Yet, maybe the Bread of Life is beneath the crust, the skin, the outer rough.

May I  live as I am named; not as a woodpecker pecking metal, but as a Christian knocking on the door of Jesus' heart.

His heart is already open, so the knock is more like a gentle, "I'm here," tap.

"Come and rest," He invites.

"Ah, yes."

Tomorrow morning I'm going to bring a baguette with a hard crust.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig